Conjugated fatty acids (CFA) have received increased interest because of their beneficial effects on human health, including preventing cancer development. Conjugated linoleic acids (CLA) are such CFA, and have been reviewed extensively for their multiple biological activities. In contrast to other types of CFAs including CLA that are found at low concentrations (less than 1%) in natural products, conjugated linolenic acids (CLN) are the only CFAs that occur in higher quantities in natural products. Some plant seeds contain a considerably high concentration of CLN (30 to 70 wt% lipid). Our research group has screened CLN from different plant seed oils to determine their cancer chemopreventive ability. This review describes the physiological functions of CLN isomers that occur in certain plant seeds. CLN are able to induce apoptosis through decrease of Bcl-2 protein in certain human cancer cell lines, increase expression of peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR)-γ, and up-regulate gene expression of p53. Findings in our preclinical animal studies have indicated that feeding with CLN resulted in inhibition of colorectal tumorigenesis through modulation of apoptosis and expression of PPARγ and p53. In this review, we summarize chemopreventive efficacy of CLN against cancer development, especially colorectal cancer.
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